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Punching Out: One Year In a Closing Auto Plant    by Paul Clemens order for
Punching Out
by Paul Clemens
Order:  USA  Can
Anchor, 2012 (2011)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

This is the story of what happens to the equipment when a large Detroit plant closes. Author Paul Clemens looks at the dismantling of the Budd Company's stamping operation.

Built in 1919 on Detroit's East Side, the plant was officially shut down on December 4, 2006, and its equipment was either sold to other companies or cut up for scrap.

Whether the victim of the moving of jobs off shore, downsizing, a failing economy or an overabundance of manufacturing capacity (or all of these factors), the plant was one of many being closed throughout the country with the loss of thousands of union jobs.

The operation once produced body panels for Ford, Chrysler and other auto companies and at its peak employed over 8,000 individuals. That number had shrunk to 500 by the year it closed.

Paul Clemens, who had grown up in the neighborhood, watched the dismantling of the Budd's presses which were either sent to factories in Mexico, India, and Brazil or trucked off in pieces to be recycled.

Watching the process over months, the author comes to know some of the security guards, riggers, and torch men who emptied the cavernous, four story building. As the narrative unfolds, a number of these individuals become key figures in showing the human side of such an operation.

The riggers or individuals who tear the equipment down come from other parts of the country. One crew, whose home base is Arkansas, live in cheap motels as they move from one plant to another disassembling the huge machines that once made these manufacturing centers the envy of the industrialized world.

Of course, the bitter irony, is that, in many cases, this very equipment will find its way into other plants doing the same kind of stamping work in countries where wages are much lower.

So even if this type of production should ever return to the U.S. some day, the machines won't be available to do it, nor will there probably be any workers with the required expertise.

What the riggers don't deal with, the torch men cut into pieces that can be scrapped out. You'll meet James who, by himself, took just six days to cut apart a 900,000 pound press. In three months the torch man estimated he had cut up seven million pounds of equipment.

James' grandfather had taught him to cut steel when he was ten years old and he had been doing this job for thirty years. As American factories closed he was kept busy by his employer, RJ Torching, traveling from one site to another scrapping the equipment that was not salvaged.

A fascinating read, this entertaining paperback offers an insider's view of what happens after the workers leave and the gates are padlocked when a factory closes. It puts a human face on what has become a very common occurrence in many sections of the American heartland.

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